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Supreme Court ruling confuses procedure for drunk driving charges

According to South Carolina law, when a driver is pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving, the police officer is supposed to give that driver a 20-minute waiting period before administering a breath test. This 20-minute period allows any alcohol that may be in the driver's mouth to dissipate so that the blood alcohol content level reading is not falsely inflated. Once the breath test is taken, if the driver's BAC is above the legal limit that driver can face drunk driving charges.

Until recently, the police officer was supposed to take a video recording of the driver during those 20 minutes and that recording is submitted into evidence for the case. Prior rulings and legislation stated that the recording needed to last the full 20 minutes whether the driver refuses sobriety testing or not. This all seems rather clear cut. However, a recent ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court has taken away the clarity surrounding this procedure.

The Supreme Court has determined that the video recording does not need to continue for the full 20 minutes if the driver refuses a breathalyzer. However, the catch is that the Supreme Court stated this amendment only applies to DUI charges stemming from the 2006 legislation. Unfortunately, the 2006 legislation was amended in 2008. Both versions require a 20-minute recording even if the driver refuses the breathalyzer. So, the question becomes whether a police officer is still required to videotape a driver that has refused to submit to field sobriety testing.

When an individual is charged with a crime for drunk driving, the potential consequences can be very severe. However, confusing updates to legislation such as this recent ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court also make it difficult with those unfamiliar with the legal system to defend against the charges on their own. People should make sure they have a strong defense strategy from the time the charges are filed. Questioning police conduct during a DUI stop, for example, could be a good place to start a defense.

It is unknown yet whether this ruling will create so much confusion that there will be further amendments. However, this does show how important it is to understand the current DUI laws.

Source: Myrtle Beach Online, "Drunken driving laws still murky despite S.C. Supreme Court's latest ruling," David Wren, May 29, 2013

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